The Company We Keep or Cole Not Beholden to Special Interests–You decide?

Here are two very different perspectives on the candidates running for seat 5 on the Madison School Board Cole/Passman. One is written by Nancy Donahue, one of the organizers of the Studio School and the other is written by Russell Wallace, Linkup and Meetup host Democracy for Wisconsin, Madison and author of his own blog ReformDem from which this article was taken

Nancy Donahue: Cole not “beholden”
Nancy Donahue, one of the organizers of The Studio School

I have had the opportunity to talk with Maya Cole twice in the past two weeks and I am convinced that she would be an excellent addition to our school board …someone who can see the big picture and incorporate it into a vision for our schools and our community. A change agent? Moreover, Maya is unfettered by the MTI machinery and political agenda so I can trust that her votes are guided by her own judgment. I am also supporting Rick Thomas for many of the same reasons.
I think that it is imperative that we make every effort to ensure that the people we elect are not “beholden” to any large organization to support their campaigns. MTI’s questionnaire flagrantly and publicly advertises that candidates must comply with the MTI agenda if they want MTI political support (which would be difficult to pass up). But the campaigns are just the beginning of an insidious political relationship. Along with MTI support comes the continual threat of repercussions (i.e., public criticism and withdrawal of support) if, once elected, a candidate should muster the personal integrity to cast a vote that runs counter to the MTI position. I prefer that our school board members feel free to cast votes based on information rather than intimidation.

I know that most SIS readers are well aware of this situation but I thought it deserved mentioning again…and again…and again. It probably goes deeper and reaches farther than people realize. Throughout the process of developing our proposal for The Studio School I had opportunities to talk and meet with MMSD teachers. I find it very interesting that early in the process they would come to planning meetings, meet with me in coffee shops, email me, and talk on the phone…but they never seemed to feel comfortable attending school board meetings or speaking out publicly in support of The Studio School. Why was this? Were they intimidated? I think they were. I did have a couple of conversations in which teachers expressed concern about going against MTI and/or the impact it would have with other teachers (i.e., coworkers). Is this really the kind of climate in which we want our teachers and children to spend their days? A climate where people are intimidated into silent complicity? I am also concerned that principals work in a similar climate. I thought that our country was rooted in freedom of thought and speech. Freedom to choose our own ideologies. I thought that Madison valued thoughtful, informed and independent thinking. I want my children to attend a school and to live in a community that supports personal integrity and responsibility. A safe place where they feel free to act and speak out in accordance with their convictions; without fear of intimidation, insult or injury from others…especially school or community leaders. Hmmm…isn’t this something we learned about in school?
And speaking of leaders, I still wonder why Johnny Winston, Jr., our school board leader, withdrew his support during the final few weeks before the BOE vote on our proposal. In late December, Mr. Winston assured me that he would “not vote no.” Yet, after consistently saying (privately and publicly) that he supported The Studio School, he suddenly had a change of heart and voted “no.” (By the way, he remains endorsed by MTI. ) Sparing the details, the net effect of Mr. Winston’s support was that it undermined our efforts – it certainly didn’t advance them. At best, I now question his leadership, reliability, and effectiveness in supporting an issue. At worst, I question the motives behind any vote he casts – especially if it involves an issue that could require standing up to the MMSD and MTI power structures.

FACT CHECK: MTI is not listed on Johnny Winston’s supporter page. Other reasons must have lead Mr. Winston to vote no. This lead me to wonder about other “facts” Ms. Donahue uses in her letter. Just because the answer is no, does not mean it wasn’t based on thoughtful, informed and independent thinking.

The Company We Keep
What does a Madison School Board race have to do with Karl Rove?

by Russell Wallace, ReformDem and Democracy for Wisconsin
In yet another odd case of politics making for very strange bedfellows, it turns out that School Board candidate Maya Cole hired a telemarketing company called Arizona FLS, also known as FLS Connect and FLS-DCI, during her 2005 campaign. FLS has a rather exclusive clientele, and it’s not exactly what you would associate with a Madison progressive. Their customers include the Bush/Cheney campaign, the Republican National Committee, the Republican Governors Association, Exxon, the NRA, the rather repressive military government of Myanmar (Burma), and, closer to home, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

But what really got me was this quote prominently featured on the FLS homepage:

“I know these guys well. They become partners with the campaigns they work with. From designing the program to drafting the scripts; from selecting targets to making the calls in a professional successful way, they work as hard to win your races as you do.” – Karl Rove
One of FLS-DCI’s specialties is creating astroturf groups, fake grassroots organizations that are actually paid PR and lobbying campaigns. They’ve been tied to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that attacked Kerry in ’04, and Voices for Choices, a front group that lobbies for AT&T (check out this previous post for a little local AT&T intrigue). One of FLS-DCI’s more interesting exploits was creating this flash video mocking Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth”:

It created quite a stir on YouTube, and fooled a lot people until The Wall Street Journal exposed it as a paid political hit piece.

So why would Maya give her money to an outfit that’s basically trying to destroy everything she claims to believes in? My guess is that she didn’t have a clue about FLS-DCI, and was just told to use them by one of her campaign advisors.

One of the reasons I’m supporting Maya’s opponent, Marj Passman, is that in both her current and previous campaigns Maya has chosen to surround herself with people who represent the exact opposite of the progressive values she claims to stand for. To be fair to Maya, and I do believe she really is a progressive, I know she felt forced to do so because she’s been largely locked out of the Madison political machine. But you’re known by the company you keep, and I wouldn’t be caught dead with some of Maya’s current buddies.

FACT CHECK: The correct Campaign Finance Report can be found by clicking the year 2006-not 2005 here and finding the name Cole, Maya here and clicking on July Continuing under her name. The final link is here look at page 6 of 7 and you will find a $1451.60 payment made to Arizona FLS.

posted byJanet Morrow

I am supporting Marj Passman, Beth Moss and Johnny Winston, Jr. for these and many other reasons. I hope you will join me on April 3rd and vote for positive change for Madison’s Public Schools!

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